Woman embracing family at Christmas

9 women share their best advice for coping with your family at Christmas

From alcohol-fuelled arguments to invasive questions, returning home for the holidays can be a stressful time. Here, Stylist readers share their best tips for how to cope with extended family time at Christmas.  

Due to strict Covid-19 restrictions last Christmas, many of us were apart from our family and friends for the festive period. Despite the rapid increase in Omicron cases, this year, our usual festive plans are back on the table – so long as our test results are negative. 

This means heading back home to spend the holidays with our families. And while there is lots of fun to be had, returning home for Christmas can be a tense and stressful time.

“Whether home is a safe haven or a triggering space, Christmas can be overwhelming for us all,” says MBACP registered psychotherapist Ruth Micallef. “Suddenly shunted back into traditional family roles, it can be tricky to navigate conflicts and find space for yourself when needed.”

From unsolicited romantic advice and judgy appearance-based comments to heated political debates and alcohol-fuelled outbursts, there’s plenty that can go wrong, leaving us feeling anxious, resentful and emotionally exhausted.

How can you deal with family-related stresses and navigate tricky situations over the festive period? Here, nine women share their best advice. 

You don’t have to fix your family  

“Some great advice I heard on the radio the other day that is really helping me at this time of year: Christmas is not the time to try and fix any issues or people in your family. Like many others, my family is hardly the Brady bunch, and I get upset dwelling on one particularly sad situation between me and my siblings that always comes to light at Christmas. So I just keep repeating that advice and remember that it’s not the right time; it may never be the right time, and it’s not up to me to fix it anyway.”

Robyn, 41

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Do what makes you happy 

“Christmas can get seriously hectic, especially if you have a large family or a full house. My advice is to focus on doing at least one thing just for yourself on Christmas Day. Whether it’s enjoying a plate of cheese, pouring a Baileys, catching a TV programme or getting out for a walk, having a small ritual that gives you some alone time allows you control over at least one thing on an otherwise overwhelming day.”

Holly, 23

Manage your expectations 

“Festive time with the family always comes with high expectations and sometimes the reality can leave us feeling a bit deflated. I always keep in mind that we all exist as a patchwork of experiences that have shaped us. Some good, some bad. Focus on the things you absolutely adore about your family, and remember that the irritating traits are annoying, but if you hadn’t been shaped by them, you wouldn’t be the person you are today. Also, hide your favourite chocolates to avoid an entitled sibling snaffling them, never mix Monopoly and booze, and there’s no argument that watching Home Alone together can’t resolve.”

Taran, 32

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Schedule in some ‘me’ time 

“Don’t be afraid to take a full-on time out. You don’t have to be present for the whole day, even if it feels like there’s pressure to be. When my family inevitably starts annoying me, I just take myself off to my bedroom for some quiet time. Whether it’s napping or watching Netflix in bed, it really helps to have some time to myself.”

Grace, 24

Don’t revert to your childhood ways 

“Stay in ‘healthy adult’ mode. It can be so easy to slip into old childhood resentments, thoughts and feelings when home, so it’s important to catch these moments as and when they occur. Take a moment to look at what you’ve ‘caught’: does it make sense to your ‘healthy adult’ self as you are now? Can you reflect more on it as a healthy adult? I find this can help stop conflicts or confusion in its tracks.”

Ruth, 31

Be careful with the booze  

“I find that drinking too much at Christmas often results in silly family rows and unnecessary arguments. When people drink more than they can handle, they become less inhibited and end up revealing uncomfortable things or bringing up old issues, resulting in friction and fallouts. I’d recommend serving less alcohol and enforcing a drink limit per person to help keep things calm and peaceful.”

Marian, 40

Get outdoors

“If there’s a dog available, use him/her. They’re a great excuse to get out of the house for a bit, either alone or with family members that you want to spend time with. I’ve often found that conversations on walks at Christmas are far more entertaining and enlightening than those had sitting around the table. There’s something about walking as a family that promotes chat that you just don’t have at other times. If you don’t have a dog available, just stick your boots on and go anyway.”

Naomi, 37

Steer clear of controversial topics 

“It’s an obvious one but stay away from topics that could cause conflict such as politics, religion or vaccines. I have a huge mix of people coming round for dinner with different views and opinions. I know we all won’t agree on things and it could end up getting rather awkward. My best advice would be to have some safe conversations topics ready to keep things light-hearted and also have an ally in case a difficult topic does come up, so they can help you steer the conversation into safer territory.”

Amber, 30

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Stay away from social media

“I always used to find myself getting really jealous scrolling through Instagram and seeing everyone having all these perfect Christmas celebrations with their families – sharing a big roast dinner, playing board games, laughing and joking around the fireplace. My Christmas never lives up to that; it’s just me, my parents and my siblings bickering for a whole week. I’ve found that steering clear of social media around the holidays takes the pressure off and I can just accept my family Christmas for what it is. I also remind myself that what I see on my Instagram feed doesn’t tell the whole story, and I feel much better for it.”

Cherish, 27 

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